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Feb 27, 2012 10:43 PM

What kind of prep table / island should I get?

I downsized, and there is not enough counter space.

I am leaning toward a stainless steel prep table instead of a normal wood top. Price matters so I don't want granite. Is there some kind of table that's more natural but not expensive? I am imagining some kind of stone slab could be healthy and not taint food. I like to avoid stainless touching my food. I can detect the metallic tastes. For example could I just buy some natural counter slab, and put it on top of a normal kitchen table, and raise them up a couple feet?

Are there any other negatives to a SS prep table? They seem more hygenic and easier to clean. Great. Also seems more lasting than wood top ones. Wood can get small slice marks destroying the protective layer, right? I would not cut right on the surface, but I mean from accidental cuts.

I am unsure if I should get a cart. It looks like most prep tables have one shelf and no drawers or cabinets. Also some are not on wheels. The cart is usually small though.

I don't know what height I should aim for. I am shorter than an average person. I should see where my arms naturally hang when I am standing with elbows at 90 degrees? They are probably all about the same height.

Any other advice on what to look for or avoid? There was a great used one I should have bought, but I hesitated too long about the SS top. Thanks for your help.

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  1. With a stainless top, you'll need a large cutting board anyway. You won't want to cut directly on SS. For an island intended for prep, my view is that a hardwood top intended for use as a cutting surface is ideal. It won't have a protective "layer" in the sense you mean, just a mineral oil treatment which is periodically renewed. Hardwood cutting surfaces are pretty durable, but if signs of wear become objectionable they can be restored by sanding. You should cut directly on the surface, or there's no point to having it.

    I would not want a prep surface on wheels. It is safer to use a knife on an unmovable surface.

    Soapstone is probably the best stone for a prep surface. But it requires the same maintenance as hardwood, and is probably more expensive.

    The principal advantage of SS is that it's easy to keep absolutely clean. If you have SS counter, and use polyethelene cutting boards on top of that, you can easily sterilize the whole setup.

    7 Replies
      1. re: GH1618

        Our current kitchen is large but with inadequate counter space. The new one, when we build it, will be great. So like you I had that problem. I got a stainless one at my local Sam's Club for $100. It's really great. The wheels lock and it doesn't move around at all. There is some storage space underneath.

        I agree that you'll still need to use a cutting board, preferably wood or plastic, to protect your knives. I own several and prefer a nice big wood one for most stuff, except cutting raw meat. Alton Brown wants me to use plastic for that and he's the man so ...

        1. re: PepinRocks

          Thanks. I'm shocked about plastic for cutting raw meat.

          1. re: Conundrums

            Honestly, I don't always get it out, just to slice up a single chicken breast ... but then I have to clean my big wood board. Which I don't do daily if all I've done is prep some brussels sprouts, squash or broccoli. The small plastic one is easier to take out when duty calls for raw meat. I don't know if Alton is right or wrong but I trust him.

            1. re: PepinRocks

              For wood boards or tabletops, it seems if you keep the top well oiled, then clean-up is easy. I don't understand which woods are good for directly cutting on. I guess any real hardwoods. I see these thin wood tops, and I don't know if you can oil them up and use them. They are probably real oak or maple, just thin. The thick hardwood tops get expensive. The professional type especially.

              1. re: Conundrums

                A butcher block company would use an appropriate wood, but as you say, these can be expensive. Years ago, I had some cabinets custom made and decided to use a "butcher block" top for one section. I happened to find a table top of laminated edge-grain hardwood which was exactly the right thickness (about 1.5"), and just a little too large in one dimension. Because it was intended for use as a table, the underside was rough, and the top was finished. My cabinetmaker sanded off the finish, cut it to the right size, and incorporated it. This was inexpensive, given that I had already decided to hire a cabinetmaker. Unfortunately, I did not use it long, but I'm sure it would have held up, as it appeared to be maple.

                An island would be easier than a counter, I think. Perhaps you can find a table of suitable size and construction for which you would be able to replace the top. A top, of any material, is a lot cheaper than those purpose-made islands. Some are affordable, though. This one is only $318:


                1. re: GH1618

                  Yeah, I don't need it large. I looked at soapstone slabs, to sit on top of a cheap cart/island. The problem is they are uneven. The less expensive ones, anyway. SS has low prices, but as you say, then I need a nice thicker board to sit on top. Then it's back in the price range of wood tops.

      2. I love my counter height stainless table with the lower shelf, they sell them at Sam's Club for about 100 dollars. It has added counter space to my kitchen. In fact I want to get a couple more, one for outside by the grill and another for the kitchen.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rasputina

          Look ... normally I'd be mad that you're in here trying to steal my thunder and claiming my post as your own. But ... I'm in a good mood today. So I'll share credit with you.

          I'm really tall @ 6'6" so I LOVE the added height. It is perfect for me. My GF gets to cook on the "normal" counterspace, when I let her cook at all (before 6am).